Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, has a well-preserved mediaeval Old Town centre, with cobblestoned lanes, gabled houses, historic houses and turreted city walls. It is remarkable among the European cities we visited in that it was not destroyed during either of the world wars. The Old Town is divided into two parts (historically two separate feuding towns): the upper town (Toompea – the seat of government ruling Estonia); and the lower town (including the Town Hall Square), which was an autonomous Hanseatic trading centre. A remarkably intact mediaeval wall surrounds the two towns, which are themselves separated by another wall.
We entered the old town via an archway next to the squat Fat Margaret Tower (Paks Margareeta). Nearby is a split black arch, called Broken Line, which is a memorial to 852 people who perished in 1992 when the Estonia passenger-and-car ferry sank during its Tallinn-Stockholm run.
The main street of the lower town, Pikk Street, is lined with former warehouses, and merchants guild halls. Town Hall Square has been a marketplace through the centuries, and is the focal point of the Old Town. In one corner is the still-operating pharmacy (Raeapteek) dating from 1422, which claims to to be Europe’s oldest.
We then climbed the steep, cobbled Lühike Jalg (Short Leg Lane) to the upper town, stopping on the way to browse in a few quality arts and craft shops. At the top is a grassy strip outside the wall that divides the two towns, offering some fine views over the red roofs of the lower town.
The reward for the climb is the elaborate Alexander Nevsky (Russian Orthodox) Cathedral. It was built in 1900 near the end of two centuries when Estonia was ruled by the Russian Empire, to show the repressed Estonians and Germans who was boss. There was a funeral being conducted when we were there, but the tour groups (and us) were filing in and out regardless. There are no pews, so the congregation stands throughout the service. The singing was exquisite.
Across the square is Toompea Castle, fronted by an 18th-century Russian pink palace, which is the seat of Estonian government. At the rear of the castle is Pikk Hermann (Tall Hermann Tower), which is the tallest tower of the castle wall. The Dome Church (Toomkirik), or St Mary’s Church, is a simple Northern European Gothic Church from the 13th century, containing hundreds of coats of arms of the wealthy German-speaking aristocracy. From there we wandered, or squeezed past tour groups, down cobbled lanes to two view points over the old lower town.
We then followed the old town wall down Pikk Jalg (Long Leg Lane) back through the Town Hall Square and out through the Viru Gate to meet the shuttle bus back to the ship. On the way we managed to find an exhibition that we had previously heard about, called Monet2Klimt, which was a multimedia presentation of the works of Monet, Van Gogh and Klimt, projected on wrap-around screens, and set to music. We only had time for Klimt and a bit of Van Gogh, before we reluctantly had to leave to make the last shuttle. Just before the Viru Gate, which leads out of the old town into new Tallinn, is row of stalls built against the inside of the town wall, called “Sweater Wall”. This is a colourful gauntlet of women selling (and knitting) knitwear of all types.
Back at the port we could see the relative sizes of our ship (which carries 930 passengers) and our neighbour (which carries 3900). We are enjoying the relatively small size of ours very much, both on board and in ports.
This will be the last post until we get home. Too busy having fun!! But don’t worry, we haven’t fallen off the edge of the earth, I will update the blog very soon!